May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this week marks Mental Health Awareness Week with the theme being kindness… but how important is being kind to ourselves and others helpful for our mental health and wellbeing?

I have decided to share my story from lockdown on how love letters saved my sanity recently…

Kindness Matters: I want to give back the gift of being kind after letters of love saved me recently. Image: youtube.com/sophiemeilan
I was totally thrown by the abuse I received in Lockdown until I started receiving letters of love youtube.com/sophiemeilan

Killing hate with kindness: Counteracting Hate Mail with Love Letters 
Whilst in Lockdown hate mail and trolling has escalated for me (which is such a shame after the recent Caroline Flack #BeKind campaign flooded the internet) to the point I wanted to give in.  

Until friends counteracted the hate mail by sending me love letters as well as strangers online messaging me with kind words… what had felt like a string of abuse posted through my door in lockdown had been transformed with my letterbox and inbox being filled with letters of love and hope.

It dawned on me the power of kindness and how we/I must make more of an effort in these times (and always) to take a deep breath and do something positive /  be kind. So I have been inspired to do the same and I have started to send out love letters and self-love parcels, something which I used to do prior to lockdown (where I have been feeling overwhelmed with trolling and harassment). 

But rather than whither away into the depths of the despair with the abuse I have received, I am taking the courage to take positive action. The theme this May for Mental Health Awareness Week is kindness (18-24 May https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week/why-kindness-theme)

#BeKind #KindnessMatters – Watch my Story

Here’s how kindness saved my mental health and wellbeing recently… 


My new home had been a place of safety, security, self-styled sparkle and a rest away from the busy world. But as this Pandemic has swept, that busy scary world felt like it had invaded my home. After the initial lockdown challenge to my mental health, I had started to manage well by adopting new coping strategies to keep me as positive and taking control in any small aspect of my own life that I could such as setting myself a strict morning routine. 

But my senses continue to feel heightened as I am not getting the release and relief my emotions desire such as human connection and contact which make everything feel worse. 


So when the post or parcel delivery arrives, there’s normally an air of excitement as I move from one room to another and discover what is on my doorstep. Even with food for my gerbils arriving, I felt a huge gratitude for experiencing this situation whilst living in today’s online world. But that night, the post arrived late, I was just about to film a live video on coping with mental health in lockdown (my main job is as a broadcast journalist/ film-maker and sometimes ‘youtuber’ or vlogger where I talk about mental illness, life and single parenting), something just didn’t feel right. 

I edged to my doorway and saw a single envelope on the floor of my home. I have received ‘hate mail’ previously and I could sense I wasn’t going to like this letter either.

But maybe I was just being over cautious? It had been a long day after all and I had only managed to move between rooms for a change of scenery. 
As I carefully opened the letter… there it was in black and white… more vile hate. This Lockdown has brought the best out of humanity but occasionally the worst too. 
Sadly, when you work online you become used to a bit of trolling but there is something much more threatening and attacking about something coming through your door. 

Still in shock, I garbled my way through my live vlog as my voice trembled and I questioned who I was to be talking about ‘coping with mental health’ when my mind had been viciously attacked in one fell swoop. 

But as I always say I am strong but fragile, and whether you have mental health problems like I do or not, hate is hate and it is hard to handle especially when the abusers “know where you live” and we are living in intoxicating times.  

For several days the content of the letter knocked me badly, to the point I really couldn’t see a way out of this situation.  Even in my allowed times to leave the house for exercise or shopping, I dreaded leaving. I didn’t feel safe in my home or outside my home. 


Eventually, somehow, I forced myself to put on a big coat, keep my head down and go on a mini jog close to home. I ended up running faster and faster as my anxiety got the better of me and I just did not want to be seen. I could feel my chest pounding from the fear and the adrenaline which had built up inside of me. What if the person harassing me was local? What if they were watching me?! 


When I arrived home, I was shaken. How could something seemingly so small have knocked me so much? I started to talk to my video diary again. I was having an anxiety attack. 


And then I heard the letterbox go. 


I didn’t dare go to see what had been posted, it wasn’t worth the risk to my sanity. But then my phone went, it was a text. I looked down and saw it was my friend messaging me: “I’ve just dropped a letter of love through your door.” 


My heart filled with gratitude and relief! Finally I didn’t have to edge to my door, I could just walk to my door and pick up the letter with two hands. I opened it and started to read the hand-written card. 

Tears rolled down my face and this time I was brought again to my knees but with happy emotions. The words of encouragement, kindness and love… just meant so much. It didn’t erase the pain of the letter which had come before but it did start to heal my heart. 


Then the next day another card came. It was another letter of love and hope. The texts started to come too. Kind positive quotes and words from loved ones. And then the next day more post came and each time it was messages of love and hope (in between bills and bank statements). Within days, I felt my hope restored. My confidence started to rebuild too. 
What had been an invasion on my privacy and sanity had transformed into being flooded by love from people. Those positive words really held me and dragged me from the dark depths of despair I had found myself in. By the end of the following week, I too started to take positive control again and action. 


I had been inspired to send out my own hand-made parcels and letters of love. I had done this in the past, but I too are guilty of feeling swamped by the negativity of the current situation and feeling hopeless. I hadn’t quite realised that especially in these times, just how important kindness is. I’d say being kind is more important than ever. 
Not only does being kind make you feel-good but as I know with the hand-written letters of love I received, that kindness can save people in their most difficult moments. 


I am lucky in that I am quite vocal about some of my personal challenges thanks to my work on social media… but what about all those people who are facing challenges we know nothing about? “You will never regret being kind” is literally the writing on a plaque on my wall inside my home and I too must remind myself and others that kindness may take courage or effort at times, but you will never regret it. Whereas (hopefully) you will regret spreading hate or not finding the time to be kind. This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May) is themed on Kindness which is so important for all of our mental health.

By kindness I also mean those acts towards yourself of self-care and of course when we can to spread kindness to others… it can be as simple as sending a positive quote to a loved one or may be even posting your own letter of love. Whatever act no matter how big or small… pausing and acting kindly can literally save lives. 

My home and heart is finally feeling rebuilt and I am focusing on the abundance of love there is from all of those kind-hearted souls who have restored some of my sparkle. 

#KINDNESSMATTERS… What’s the kindest thing you’ve done or had done to you?


Some lessons on kindness I’ve loved today…


KINDNESS IS POWERFUL “The power of peace”… Simply Ladies inc


HATERS ARE YOUR FANS”The trolls are your biggest fans, because they’re watching and interacting with all your content,” says Milly Mitchell MUA “You must be doing something right if people are talking about you, even if it hurts at first”…


ACTS OF KINDNESS MEAN THE WORLD “People who just get you and check in on you, even if you go quiet. Those who just want to help in your most vulnerable times.” A Mum Full Of Dreams

Why is Kindness important to our mental health?

Benefits of Kindness 

Kindness can have real benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. In April of 2020, the Mental Health Foundation worked with YouGov to conduct an online survey of 4,246 UK adults aged 18+. They found that 63% of UK adults agree that when other people are kind it has a positive impact on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health. 

Studies have found that being kind is linked to increased feelings of happiness, wellbeing, and life satisfaction5–9 for people of all ages.10,11   

Across a range of studies, people who carry out acts of kindness are found to experience greater wellbeing.5 This seems to be the case regardless of whether the recipient of our kindness is those close to us, society more broadly, or ourselves.9 There is even some evidence to suggest that simply remembering kind things we have done in the past may increase our wellbeing.

Such acts of kindness can include behaviours both big and small, from letting someone know how much you appreciate them, to formal volunteering. One study of UK adolescent perspectives of kindness identified a broad range of behaviours that can be considered kind, including things like providing emotional or practical support to others (in both good and bad times), expressing forgiveness of others, being inclusive, and treating others with honesty and generosity.12 

There are many reasons why kindness may have this positive effect: it can boost our mood, help us feel more capable, and strengthen our relationships with others.12–14 There is also some evidence that behaviours that help or benefit others, like kindness, can help us to buffer the negative effects of stress on our health.11,15 It has been observed that times of stress can prompt people to respond with empathy and altruism.16 This tendency towards helping others in times of stress has been called the “tend-and-befriend” response and it is has been suggested it is an adaptive response that allows us to reach out to others to provide, and receive, much-needed support in difficult times.17  In general, kindness is thought to be one of the ways that people create, maintain, and strengthen their social connections,13 and there is some evidence that reminding people of their connectedness to those around them may increase their intention to help others.18  

Our motivation for helping others may also play a role in how kindness supports our wellbeing and mental health. When we act with kindness, it generally means our behaviour comes from a place of genuine and warm feelings for others rather than from obligation or anticipation of reward.1 There is some evidence that those who report helping others or volunteering for proactive reasons (e.g. they feel it is important, they want to help) experience greater benefits compared to those who help because they were told to, or for self-gain.19,20  

Overall, there is evidence to suggest that kindness is one important way we can help others and promote and protect our mental health and wellbeing. The effects of kindness may be maximised when it helps us to strengthen our social connections, when it is done voluntarily and for unselfish reasons, and when we feel that we have had a positive effect on others.13 

References 

1. Canter D, Youngs D, Yaneva M. Towards a measure of kindness: An exploration of a neglected interpersonal trait. Pers Individ Dif. 2017;106:15–20.  

2. Caldwell C. Understanding Kindness – A Moral Duty of Human Resource Leaders. J Values-Based Leadersh. 2017;10(2).  

3. APA. Altruism [Internet]. APA Dictionary of Psychology. [cited 2020 May 1]. Available from: https://dictionary.apa.org/altruism 

4. Goetz JL, Keltner D, Simon-Thomas E. Compassion: An Evolutionary Analysis and Empirical Review. Psychol Bull. 2010;136(3):351–74.  

5. Curry OS, Rowland LA, Van Lissa CJ, Zlotowitz S, McAlaney J, Whitehouse H. Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2018;76:320–9.  

6. Ko K, Margolis S, Revord J, Lyubomirsky S. Comparing the effects of performing and recalling acts of kindness. J Posit Psychol. 2019;  

7. Nelson SK, Layous K, Cole SW, Lyubomirsky S. Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion. 2016;16(6):850–61.  

8. Aknin LB, Barrington-Leigh CP, Dunn EW, Helliwell JF, Burns J, Biswas-Diener R, et al. Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2013;104(4):635–52.  

9. Rowland L, Curry OS. A range of kindness activities boost happiness. J Soc Psychol. 2019;159(3):340–3.  

10. Layous K, Nelson SK, Oberle E, Schonert-Reichl KA, Lyubomirsky S. Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being. PLoS One. 2012;7(12).  

11. Poulin MJ. Volunteering predicts health among those who value others: Two national studies. Heal Psychol. 2014;33(2):120–9.  

12. Cotney JL, Banerjee R. Adolescents’ Conceptualizations of Kindness and its Links with Well-being: A Focus Group Study. J Soc Pers Relat. 2019;36(2):599–617.  

13. Helliwell J, Aknin L, Shiplett H, Huang H, Wang S. Social Capital and Prosocial Behaviour as Sources of Well-Being. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research; 2017. (NBER Working Paper Series). Report No.: 23761.  

14. Aknin LB, Van de Vondervoort JW, Hamlin JK. Positive feelings reward and promote prosocial behavior. Curr Opin Psychol. 2018;20:55–9.  

15. Poulin MJ, Holman EA. Helping hands, healthy body? Oxytocin receptor gene and prosocial behavior interact to buffer the association between stress and physical health. Horm Behav. 2013;63(3):510–7.  

16. Buchanan TW, Preston SD. Stress leads to prosocial action in immediate need situations. Front Behav Neurosci. 2014;8:5.  

17. Taylor S., Master SL. Social Responses to Stress: The Tend-and-Befriend Model. In: Contrada R., Baum A, editors. The Handbook of Stress Science. New York: Springer; 2011. p. 101–7.  

18. Pavey L, Greitemeyer T, Sparks P. Highlighting relatedness promotes prosocial motives and behavior. Personal Soc Psychol Bull. 2011;37(7):905–17.  

19. Weinstein N, Ryan RM. When Helping Helps: Autonomous Motivation for Prosocial Behavior and Its Influence on Well-Being for the Helper and Recipient. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010;98(2):222–44.  

20. Konrath S, Fuhrel-Forbis A, Lou A, Brown S. Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Heal Psychol. 2012;31(1):87–96.  

21. Stallman HM, Ohan JL, Chiera B. The role of social support, being present and self-kindness in university student well-being. Br J Guid Couns. 2018;46(4):365–74.  

22. Zeng X, Chiu CPK, Wang R, Oei TPS, Leung FYK. The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta-analytic review. Front Psychol. 2015;6(NOV):1693.  

23. Galante J, Galante I, Bekkers MJ, Gallacher J. Effect of kindness-based meditation on health and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2014;82(6):1101–14.  

24. Luberto CM, Shinday N, Song R, Philpotts LL, Park ER, Fricchione GL, et al. A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of the Effects of Meditation on Empathy, Compassion, and Prosocial Behaviors. Mindfulness (N Y). 2018;9(3):708–24.  

25. Galante J, Bekkers MJ, Mitchell C, Gallacher J. Loving-Kindness Meditation Effects on Well-Being and Altruism: A Mixed-Methods Online RCT. Appl Psychol Heal Well-Being. 2016;8(3):322–50.  

26. Grant AM, Gino F. A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2010;98(6):946–55.  

27. Ma LK, Tunney RJ, Ferguson E. Does gratitude enhance prosociality?: A meta-analytic review. Psychol Bull. 2017;143(6):601–35.  

28. Rowland L. Kindness – society’s golden chain? [Internet]. The Psychologist. 2018 [cited 2020 May 1]. Available from: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-31/february-2018/kindness-societys-golden-chain 

29. Binfet J-T. Not-so random acts of kindness : A guide to intentional kindness in the classroom. Int J Emot Educ. 2015;7(2):35–48.  

30. Campling P. Reforming the culture of healthcare: the case for intelligent kindness. BJPsych Bull. 2015;39(1):1–5.